Pulaski native and longtime resident Ellen Kate Harman Carson passed away on Dec. 11, 2012, concluding a rich and vital life that touched countless friends, family members and business associates throughout her community. She was 94 and had resided most recently at Warm Hearth Village in Blacksburg.
Born June 3, 1918 to John Caddall “Doc” Harman and Madeline Askew Harman, Mrs. Carson lived a life that in many ways was a half-century ahead of her time. After losing her husband, Harvey William Carson Jr., in 1964, she exemplified what today is recognized as a strong, independent single mother capable of successfully juggling the multiple demands of family, career and civic responsibility.
Often described by those around her as a “firecracker,” Mrs. Carson pursued her more than 40 years in the life insurance business, as well as her many outside interests, with extraordinary energy and zeal. Family members suspect that her remarkable will likely was forged during a two-year battle against tuberculosis, which struck while she was serving as a civilian employee of the Pentagon during World War II. As Mrs. Carson recollected for her children, her supervisor at the time actually saved her life by refusing to accept her protests that she was too busy to take time off and get tested for the disease.
Throughout her life, a constant in Mrs. Carson’s many and varied interests was her deep faith and membership in the congregation of First United Methodist Church. She was a devoted member from the time she was a child, and her church activities ranged from singing in the choir to teaching Sunday school. For most of her life she rarely missed a worship service – even in her later years when she listened to the church’s radio broadcast at home.
A lifelong passion for the arts was heavily influenced by her father, who was known as “Mr. Minstrel” and “Mr. Show Business” for performances that included the portrayal of Santa Claus in Pulaski’s annual Christmas parade. As a result of her father’s membership in the town’s Fire Department Band, Mrs. Carson had the opportunity to study with Mr. A.U. Fine, who had been a band director for the Czar of Russia before relocating to Pulaski. She followed in her father’s footsteps as a band member after becoming especially proficient with the clarinet and saxophone – talents she complemented with an equal flair for dance. After starting a family, Mrs. Carson took special delight in immersing her children in opportunities to explore their own creative talents. And even while pursuing her professional career with New York Life Insurance Company, she remained actively involved with local arts by managing the Helen Spahr School of Dance and often attending Roanoke Opera as well as events at the Fine Arts Center for the New River Valley. All the while, she never missed an opportunity to go dancing.
Politics and public service also were in Mrs. Carson’s blood. She was the granddaughter of General Assembly member Col. King Edwin Harman, and her civic involvement included service as a delegate to the state Democratic convention and a term as Virginia state president of the General Federation of Junior Women’s Clubs. She also served on the Governor’s Committee on Children and Youth and was a longstanding member of the Pulaski Chamber of Commerce as well as a Red Cross volunteer. She was especially proud of her role with the Junior Women’s Club in the formation of the state-funded Child Guidance Centers in the 1960s, which later became the Community Services Boards. Mrs. Carson was particularly well known for her hospitality and involvement in local activities and organizations that included bridge and garden clubs as well as the DAR chapter. She was a fantastic cook who loved to host social gatherings and welcome people into her home. Many of her recipes included home-grown vegetables – Mrs. Carson was as comfortable tending her produce and flower gardens as she was conducting business in her downtown Pulaski insurance office.
Among Mrs. Carson’s most memorable traits was her dedication to health and fitness, a lifestyle she adopted long before regular exercise and healthy eating came into vogue. Members of the Pulaski YMCA will remember her as an avid swimmer who typically was in the pool five days a week, a routine she maintained well into her early 90s.
Mrs. Carson, who was predeceased by her brother, King Edwin Harman, is survived by her son, William Caddall Carson of Pulaski; two daughters, Ellen Noel Carson, who resides in Floyd with her husband, Daniel Porter, and Shannon Askew Carson, who resides in New York with her husband, Gary Terpening; and two grandchildren, Shannon Kate Porter of Christiansburg and Kiah Benjamin Porter of Radford. Like all who knew and loved her, they will treasure memories of her boundless enthusiasm for the many joys life has to offer.
A memorial service will be held on Wednesday Dec. 19, at 7 p.m. at Seagle Funeral Home. The family will receive friends Wednesday evening from 5 until 7 p.m. service time. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that condolences be expressed through donations to the First United Methodist Church or the Fine Arts Center for the New River Valley. Online condolences may be sent to the family by visiting www.seaglefuneralhome.com Arrangements by Seagle Funeral Home, Pulaski. 540-980-1700